If you struggle to get people to participate in meetings, you’re not alone. Many people dread meetings and once they’re under way, folks clam up or space out. Lack of participation is a sure roadblock to meeting productivity. Before you know it, a downward spiral takes hold – everyone’s quiet — except you. As the meeting drags on, people may feel resentment because you’re keeping them from their “real work.”
When your conference room is silent, how can you keep your meeting actively moving forward? With buy-in.
Whether you need people to come to a decision, discuss a process or be on board with an idea, you need their buy-in. More specifically, you need their buy-in to participation.
Tactics of buy-in that will boost meeting participation
You’ve booked your meeting and everyone’s in the room, but that doesn’t guarantee you’ll get active conversation. Next time you feel like you’re talking to a wall in your meeting, put some (or all) of these five elements of buy-in to work. They’ll get people engaged and make your meetings more productive. They might even help you end your meeting early (gasp).
Getting attention to get buy-in
It’s easy for people in a meeting to think about anything but the topic at hand. Perhaps it’s the project they were working on before walking in the door, or the one that’s due at the end of the day, or the email alert that just hit their phone.
It’s a big job to capture and hold people’s attention during meetings. They can lose focus for a number of reasons. The cause isn’t necessarily as simple as boredom or a lack of caffeine (though both are participation killers).
Boredom can inspire some creative thinking but when it’s not on topic for your meeting, it’s not much help. Here are some interesting facts about boredom
Sometimes, people disengage because they feel hurt or disrespected by other attendees. Perhaps they feel humiliated by a response to a comment they made. Or, they might perceive a loss of status when one of their ideas was “shot down.”
The first step to getting buy-in to ideas in your meeting is to capture and hold people’s attention.
These tips will keep your meeting participants awake and focused
Time of day
Shoot for scheduling during mid-morning or mid-afternoon. Hold your meetings before 9 in the morning and people will be too grumpy or tired to participate. Schedule them right after lunch and they’ll fall asleep. Book them after 4 and folks will watch the clock.
Let people know in advance that they should keep their devices tucked away. When people look at their phones or tablets, they don’t tune into your meeting. A focus on the task at hand will move the meeting along faster.
Length of the meeting
Keep it short. A meeting that needs more than an hour will create rumblings among the masses. People’s attention spans are so limited that going past an hour guarantees your participation will drop.
Coffee is a definite. Tea, too (for those wanting something other than a cup o’ joe). A boost of caffeine keeps people alert and warm beverages have an added bonus. People associate a warm, comforting drink with you, which then makes you seem more welcoming and even trustworthy. So be sure to serve a hot beverage for buy-in.
If you have the equipment and opportunity, use visuals. While you might be a dynamic speaker, after a while, audio alone doesn’t hold people’s attention. Supplement your speech. Consider a slide deck with images, charts or even high level bullet points to illustrate your ideas. If capturing ideas on a white board fits your meeting type, use it.
Set the rules of engagement
Do this when your meeting starts, in your agenda, or in advance via email. Create a framework for positive give and take as a preventative measure so people don’t stop talking because they feel under attack. You can curtail people from withdrawing if you reduce the chances they’ll feel hurt or demeaned.
Though you may be leading a meeting, that shouldn’t make it a monologue. Sure, it may be your job to kick off a meeting, but avoid the impulse to keep on rolling until its end. Otherwise, people in the meeting think they won’t be expected to contribute. At best, they’ll stay silent, at worst, they’ll drift off and stop paying attention.
You invited people to your meeting to get their participation. That means that, at some point, you have to stop talking. Then you can focus on ways to encourage participation.
6 Tactics to get people to participate in meetings:
1. Have others contribute to the meeting content
By including others in deciding what will be discussed, they will take ownership of their part. This is sure way to engage people. Even after their segment of the meeting is done, the pump will be primed for them to contribute and they may have more to say.
2. Regularly ask for input and invite questions
Provide many opportunities for people to speak up. By asking questions, you direct their attention to a specific idea and focus their thinking. This tactic can reduce the pressure for them to speak. However, avoid putting someone on the spot with your questions.
3. Make your meeting lively and interactive
If you have a large group, you could pair up people or create small groups and give them tasks. Then, pull folks together to share their ideas. Everyone will participate in their break out discussions and it’s likely several will contribute to the larger conversation. Congratulations! You have folks talking. Once in the groove, they’re more likely to stay involved.
4. Throw in some games
This tactic will make the meeting fun and lighten the mood. Setting people at ease will make them more comfortable with speaking up.
5. Give credit where credit is due
When people contribute ideas, use them. Reward them for speaking up and they’ll be likely to say more. Others will take notice and may feel comfortable putting in their 2 cents, too.
6. Divide meeting content into short units of time
Avoid dragging out any one part of the meeting and people will be more engaged. The longer you stay with one idea, the more likely you’ll lose people. Before they yawn, move on.
Sometimes all the meeting participation you need is for people to agree with an idea or decision. Or maybe your goal is to motivate them to take on a task. To get this kind of participation, strengthen your powers of persuasion.
What methods of persuasion you use will make all the difference. Most important is to show a healthy respect for others’ ideas and autonomy.
Use these five tips to boost your powers of persuasion:
1. Begin in a friendly way
Be sympathetic to people’s ideas and desires. With this opening tactic, people will see you as supportive, rather than having a competing agenda.
2. Get people in the room to say “yes”
Have them agree to something (even unrelated) right off the bat. They’ll feel comfortable saying yes to your ideas and this gets them closer to saying yes to your proposal.
3. Let others do the talking
People will feel you value their opinions when they’re given the floor in a meeting. Interrupt or cut someone off, and they’re likely to withdraw from participating and worse, you can lose their support.
4. Let others “own” the idea
This tactic takes some skill. Sure, you initially introduced the idea, but if you let others discuss it and then validate what they say, before long, they’ll start to think the idea is theirs. Should discussion get sidetracked, ask questions along the way to lead them toward the final concept you want them to “own.”
5. Avoid arguing, and always show respect
If you get confrontational, people will become defensive. They may quickly take a position opposite yours simply because they feel offended. Even polite disagreement gets in the way of winning someone over. To persuade, you must use tact.
Make it happen with negotiation
There are times when you want people in your meeting to agree to something they’re initially opposed to. Or, at the very least, they may be resistant. If you’re proposing a change in workflow or putting new tasks on their plate, chances are good you’ll struggle to get buy-in.
Some might voice their opposition openly, and others may brood in silence. Ideally, you want not only participation, but positive participation. So, how do you bring people around?
First, put your powers of persuasion to work. Then, be ready to negotiate.
Advance your art of negotiation with these 5 strategies
1. Share your goal for the meeting in advance
Include your goal in your agenda and send it out at least a few days beforehand. Make clear that you expect people to discuss it. Give them time to think through their ideas and they’ll come prepared to talk. If you let people know you expect negotiation, they’ll be in the mindset of participation before they enter the room.
2. Take on the least important issues first
Get people to participate in your meeting negotiations by priming them with minor topics early on. Once you move to bigger items, they will be in their negotiating groove. This means they’re talking. That participation keeps the meeting moving forward and productive. It also sets you up for negotiating big items more smoothly.
3. Keep your information handy
Be ready to field questions in your meeting. While you might be able to answer most of them off the top of your head, you may need to depend on resources, too. If you’re able to answer questions quickly and fully, you’ll be better able to move the meeting forward.
4. Be ready to compromise
In negotiations, a hardliner who won’t budge can stop progress in its tracks. Before you begin discussion, let people know that compromise will be part of the process. Negotiation is the art of give and take. Show people you’re ready to give a little and they’ll do the same.
5. Stay on topic
If the discussion gets sidetracked make note of ideas people bring up. Avoid having the person taking minutes be the only one to document these ideas. Write them down yourself, or jot them on a white board. This signals you have a strong interest in taking action to address the ideas in the future. Keep discussion moving and people will stay plugged in and participating.
Many meetings are about making decisions. In this type of meeting, keeping focus should be your goal. Avoid distractions that take attention away from the decision at hand. When discussion wanders off topic people get frustrated and anxious. They know decisions need made and getting to the end line sooner than later means they can go back to work.
Tell people what a decision looks like. When they understand how a decision will be reached, they’ll be more prepared to participate in getting there.
4 Ways to make decisions happen in your meeting
1. Get consensus
It helps to have a sense of where people sit on the issue before they come to the meeting. If you suspect they might feel similarly, shoot for making the decision based on consensus. It also depends on how much skin they have in the game. If their stakes are the same, a consensus may be more likely.
2. Move on a majority vote
When people dig their heels in your discussion may stall. If you think that the room isn’t split go for a majority vote. An advantage of a majority decision is speed. Sure, you might have a lot of participation as people try to sway others to their way of thinking. However, the longer the meeting runs, the sooner others will get frustrated and lose interest.
3. Offer only a few choices
If there aren’t many ideas to choose between, decisions happen faster. You’ll also create less cognitive load (the space in our brains we can dedicate to a particular choice) by having less options.
4. Meet on Friday afternoon
While it may go against common logic, this tactic can help make decisions happen. Fast. Hold your meeting late on a Friday, then make clear that the meeting will continue until a decision is reached. Magic meeting motivation will take hold. Your participation levels will increase as people eagerly move the discussion along.
Make sure people participate in meetings
One way to help people feel important to your team is to give them floor time in your meetings. When you use tactics to spark participation, not only do people plug in, but you can boost meeting productivity.
Pick some of the tips above and put them to work for you. Before long, people might start asking you for pointers to make their meetings better.
Want more information on how to improve meeting efficiency? Here’s a blog post on better brainstorming.